NIH Medical Facilities Will No Longer Experiment On Chimpanzees In The U.S.: Animals To Be Moved To Sanctuaries

Only 50 chimpanzees remain with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) facility, and two years after retiring most of their research chimpanzees, it has been announced that all medical testing on chimpanzees will cease. They have also stated that those remaining 50 chimpanzees will be transferred to a sanctuary.

A November 16 e-mail sent to the agency's administrators from the NIH director Francis Collins advised that the remaining 50 chimpanzees they held for research would be freed and placed in the Chimp Haven sanctuary. The NIH stated that they will also be making plans to bring an end to "federally supported research done on chimpanzees. The benefits of that appear to be negligible." The decision seems to stem more from a financial viewpoint than an investment into the ethical treatment of the closest genetic relative to humans.

"It is time to acknowledge that there is no further justification for the 50 chimpanzees to continue to be kept available for invasive biomedical research."
When the decision was made two-and-a-half years ago to only keep active 50 of their 360 chimpanzees, it was after an advisory board reviewed the findings of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine (known then as the U.S. Institute of Medicine) which concluded that the use of chimpanzees in research was generally unnecessary. NBC writes that now, because during that two-year period, requests to use the animals in any form of research have drastically declined -- only one request was made for the chimps and that was eventually withdrawn -- and an end is brought forth for financial reasons. Director Francis Collins did go on to explain though that this does not mean an end to research on all other non-human primates, only chimpanzees. Modern research no longer needs the animals to practice invasive procedures on.

Currently, the remaining 50 chimpanzees belonging to NIH are split between Texas and New Mexico. The NIH will first be transferring the 20 NIH-owned chimps housed at the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio, Texas, to Chimp Haven. Chimp Haven is actually a government-funded sanctuary located in Keithville, Louisiana, but currently Chimp Haven has reported that they were only able to open up space for 25 chimpanzees. There are not many sanctuaries that can accept research chimps, and most of those are already filled, so moving the chimps, even the elderly ones, to any sanctuary is a process that may take years. A law passed by Congress in 2013 requires that any facility NIH moves chimps to have to be federal sanctuaries, and Chimp Haven is the only accredited facility.

NIH is in quite the bind though because due to Chimp Haven's lack of space, the agency may determine that having more retirement facilities is the only option. If such becomes the case, the National Institutes of Health will have to find the funds to build those sanctuaries. The institute said they are discussing possible options in case of such an issue, especially since the fact that the retired chimpanzees would eventually die and render any new sanctuary space unnecessary.

Animal rights activists have long lobbied for an end to the program and are celebrating this change. The Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical treatment of Animals, and the Jane Goodall Institute are a few of the groups that have long lobbied for NIH to shut down all animal testing. PETA went so far as to send letters to 100 people in Director Collins' neighborhood about his tests on chimpanzees, asking them to approach him in protest just last month.

According to the Guardian, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, counts the end of research on chimpanzees by NIH as a major victory.

"This is a historic moment and major turning point for chimpanzees in laboratories – some who have been languishing in concrete housing for over 50 years. It is crucial now to ensure that the release of hundreds of chimpanzees to sanctuary becomes a reality, and we look forward to working with NIH and the sanctuary community to make that happen."
NIH also assures the public that the animals will be kept in their social circles when transferred to any chimpanzee sanctuary.

[Photo Courtesy of Cameron Spencer/ Getty Images]